Are gateway beers a thing?
This is something that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, but matters were brought to a head after our first trip to the shiny new behemoth that is The Charming Squire at South Bank. I’d write an actual review of the place but I think my feelings can be summed up in the following quote from the night:
“Nah fuck this. Let’s just go to Hoo Ha Bar”.
On our walk to Hoo Ha, Brad and I had what I can only assume was a robust and frank discussion on the merits or otherwise of gateway beers. Essentially my feeling is this: the whole gateway beer thing is a load of shit.
For those who don’t know and/or don’t care, a gateway beer is the term usually used by people to describe a beer that supposedly leads them on the first steps of their craft beer odyssey. It’s a term most commonly associated with the James Squire and Matilda Bay brands. The idea is that people more prone to drinking pale lagers are unable to appreciate better beer until they’ve slowly worked their way through a graduating series of slightly better beers until they finally prefer drinking beers that aren’t insipid sugar water.
You know, just like the way you can’t appreciate Ibérico ham until you’ve worked your way through luncheon meat, devon, Hans honey leg ham, triple smoked ham and everything else in the Woolies deli cabinet in ascending price order. Or how you can’t appreciate the works of Francis Bacon until you’ve had a bloody good look at your 2 year old niece’s Dora the Explorer colour by numbers book.
The gateway beers thing stems from the notion of ‘gateway drugs’, whereby people who drink alcohol are more likely to use cannabis, and are then more likely to take MDMA, and ultimately are likely found dead, face down in a pool of their own vomit with a belt wrapped around their bicep at the age of 27 to be later inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. Rest assured that THIS HAS DEFINITELY BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN AND THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO CONFUSION BETWEEN CORRELATION AND CAUSATION OR ANYTHING, TRUST ME I READ IT ON THE I FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE FACEBOOK PAGE.
The gateway thing is clearly rubbish, with the issue really coming down to availability. The reason why people cite 150 Lashes or Fat Yak as their gateway beer is because those beers are usually the only thing on tap that isn’t a pale lager. Do people honestly think that if 4 Pines Pale, Feral’s Hop Hog or Cavalier Brown took the place of the Fat Yak down at your local Woolworths Tavern that people not accustomed to good beer wouldn’t be able to drink it because it actually tastes like hops, malt and yeast? Or that your average punter has to go through a phrase of drinking the cloyingly sweet Chancer Golden Ale before they’re ready to take on The Two Birds Golden Ale?
In the same way that people don’t start injecting heroin because their cousin once gave them a sip of their rum and coke, people don’t start drinking Mornington Peninsula Imperial Stout because the boss bought a carton of Crown Golden Ale for Christmas drinks. Those who are inclined to seek out different and better things will do so; the main thing that’s going to impact their behaviour is how easy it is to obtain that new and better thing.
So even though it’s possible that the opening of The Charming Squire might actually mean some sort of flow on effect to bars and breweries committed to selling good beer, I believe it would be preferable to live in a country where the ACCC doesn’t have to investigate claims where
contracts written by CUB and Lion in 2012 and 2013, setting out onerous conditions imposed on publicans, including tying up more than 80 per cent of beer taps in return for generous volume rebates and the installation and maintenance of beer taps.
One of CUB's specialty brews had been ''selling very well'' in other pubs, the email explained. It then suggested the publican sell that brew on tap - at the expense of a specific competing craft beer that the publican was already offering. ''I'll donate the first keg,'' the CUB executive offered.
So don’t commend CUB or Lion for opening up the world of good beer to more people by opening million dollar pubs on expensive real estate, you should be pissed off that they are able to do so at the expense of local breweries who produce excellent beer but have to play fair in a rigged race.
With any luck, there will come a day where a budding beer drinker will be able to pull into almost any pub in the country and not have to endure mediocrity until they’ve done their research. Or alternatively, “Fuck this. Let’s just go to Hoo Ha Bar.”